If you’ve worked in a corporate environment, you’re probably familiar with the role of the project manager (PM)—the point person who coordinates the planning and execution of the many details and tasks that make up a project. But maybe, like me, you’ve never heard of a project sponsor. The sponsor is the top-level leader who governs the project as a whole. This is typically a director or a C-level executive, and they’re the guardian and owner of the project. The PM reports to the sponsor.
The reason I’m taking the time here to discern between these two important roles is because my coauthor, Terri Carbone, had been a project manager for 25-plus years (at the time of our collaboration). When we first had lunch to discuss the possibility of co-writing a book, it didn’t take long for me to figure out she was setting out on a potentially treacherous journey of telling her bosses how to do their jobs better. :)
What can I say? Terri’s got guts!
During her long career as a PM in the technology, aerospace and defense, and healthcare industries, Terri has seen it all. And what impressed her the most was how a sponsor can make or break a project. They affect—for better or worse—the budget, resources, deadlines, change management, and much more. And while there are plenty of books geared toward PMs, there are almost none that speak directly to the project sponsor. Terri wanted to change that. She wanted to write a book that would bridge the gap between the PM and the sponsor so they can forge an effective working relationship that truly takes advantage of their respective positions.
In writing her book, Terri would not only fill a gap in the existing literature, but she would distinguish herself as a thought leader in her industry and jumpstart a consulting business. Her goal, then and now, is for Project Sponsorship to be her calling card for speaking engagements and corporate consulting.
Big Challenge #1: Getting the Tone Right
In part, Terri’s inspiration for this book was borne out of frustration with ineffective sponsorship practices. But readers don’t want be blamed or scolded. So, we had to find the proper tone for this book—respectful, motivational, conversational. Before I dove into writing the first draft, I put together three style samples: I took one short passage from the book and wrote it using three different styles so that Terri and I could hone in on the one that would hit the mark with her target audience.
Big Challenge #2: Adding Some Human Drama
As I’d come to learn from Terri, the relationship between PM and sponsor is key to creating a successful project. So, while we wanted the book to thoroughly describe the best business practices, we wanted to convey that relational aspect too. We decided to do that through storytelling. We created characters and scenes to dramatize the typical situations and conflicts that PMs and sponsors might find themselves in as they work together to understand their respective roles and create better workplace culture.
The Writing Process
Terri’s a project manager, so the whole process went butter-smooth from start to finish. When we started, she had a 5,000-word rough draft. All of the basic ideas were there, in all the right order, and she had a laser-focused sense of purpose and audience. Whoo! So, from there, we took that very well-formed skeleton and put some flesh on it. Through a series of interviews, I was able to draw Terri out and help her elaborate on the ideas. Drawing on my experience as a fiction writer, I came up with the characters, scenes, and dialogue to dramatize the concepts and show how they might play out in real life.
As part of the writing and editing process, Terri enlisted the help of three “beta” readers—test readers who gave us feedback on our second draft. This was awesome, especially since one of the readers was an experienced project sponsor. He gave fantastic feedback, especially when it came to the relationship and interactions between the fictional sponsor and PM in the book. Since neither Terri nor I have been project sponsors ourselves, it was incredibly useful to get the feedback from someone who’s been there.
The Results & Reviews
The end product of our collaboration is Project Sponsorship: Winning Strategies for Executive Leaders. This motivational business book is concise and authoritative, and is appropriate for high-level executives as well as MBA students. At 20,000 words, the book is a quick read, but is substantial enough to be meaningful and actionable.
Terri self-published the book, and within a few months, she had sold several hundred copies within the major organization where she works. The book has also been very well-received amongst her colleagues in the Portland chapter of PMI (Project Management Institute). It was very favorably reviewed at their website, and Terri was a featured educational speaker at a PMI meeting, where (according to a PMI newsletter) her “long experience with project management shined through.”
“A project manager could, with confidence, hand this book to a sponsor prior to the start of a project and say, ‘Let’s do this.’ This book should be considered an essential part of the start-up/ramp-up process to ensure the success of a project. The small investment of time needed by a sponsor to read the book would literally save tens to hundreds or more times the effort it takes to read the book.” --Brad Hermanson, PE, PMP, MBA (via PMI Portland website)
“[Sheila] is creative, reliable, and an expert at learning what the writer is seeking to convey and turning those ideas into a powerful result.” —Terri Carbone
Of course, the work of being an author doesn’t end when the book is published. Luckily, I don’t go up in a puff of smoke after I write the last word. :)
Terri has a simple, clean website (successfulprojectsponsorship.com) that serves as an online brochure for readers and the media. I helped Terri write, organize, and post the content you see there. And, we’ve coauthored some blog posts (which we’ve cross-posted to LinkedIn) to drive traffic to the site and to give readers a reason to keep coming back for more of Terri’s insights. These articles allow Terri to give immediate value to visitors, and gives people a taste of what they can expect from the book.
Check out some of our coauthored blog posts: “I Forgot Something…Oh, Wait, It’s My Team!” and “There’s No ‘Ignore’ in Team: Great Sponsors Make Sure Workers Are Heard”
Since its publication in 2013, Project Sponsorship has consistently sold copies on a monthly basis, in the US and UK. Because the practices she espouses in the book are based on common sense and enduring business wisdom, we expect to see sales for years to come.